Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March Book Review: The Great Gatsby

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I slid in just under the wire with this month's book selection. I finished rereading it just this morning! I can't very well review The Great Gatsby in the usual way, because who the heck am I to say anything about one of the greatest books ever written? For this month, I'm just going to record some of my feelings about this novel.

I first read The Great Gatsby when I was in the tenth grade. It was required reading in my honors English class. I remember enjoying it vaguely then, but not really understanding all of it. The prose confused me at times, and I didn't feel connected to the story. Still, there were the famous images that stuck with me- the green light at the end of Daisy's dock, the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg and the valley of ashes, to name a few. I knew then that this book was something special, even if I didn't completely understand it. I knew I was reading something important, even if I could only glimpse that importance from behind the curtain of my own immaturity and inexperience.

I decided to read it again after subbing in a few English classrooms where the students were engaged in slogging through this novel. I had an opportunity to present chapter three to a tenth grade honors class, much like the one I first read Gatsby in. This chapter is quite an important one to the novel. It is the first time we get to see one of Gatsby's parties and also the first time we meet Gatsby himself. As we went through the chapter, I couldn't help but notice how much more sophisticated this book seemed to me- and how much wiser. The language played and flowed in intricate ways and the characters, who once seemed stiff and unpalatable to me, came alive. I could see Nick surveying the glamorous crowd, watch Jordan's jaunty walk and feel the misguided hope of Gatsby as he isolated himself at his own party. The excesses and superficiality of the 1920s came roaring at me and also reminded me a little bit of the how the excesses of our society today has led us into our current recession. It was then that I realized I needed to read this book again.

My second reading of Gatsby found me about six years older, with a degree in English from the University of Florida under my belt. I honestly felt like I was reading a different book from the one I read before. How could I ever have been bored or confused by this masterpiece? The language is deceptively simple, conveying complicated themes in few words. I found myself stopping to read parts again, amazed by Fitzgerald's writing. Knowing the tragic end of the novel helped me understand more as well. I could see how the story was drawing towards its inevitable conclusion. I could track Gatsby's increasingly desperate behavior and see the delusion that he labored under clearly. As an immature reader, I was disappointed that the novel didn't have a "happy" ending. I was sad that Gatsby and Daisy didn't end up together. How foolish! This novel was not about that. This novel could not have ended any other way.

I found myself very interested in Gatsby throughout this second reading. I admired that was he was charismatic and mysterious until he became tragically simple. I pitied him for holding onto a dream that never really was and never really could be again. The man was completely deluding himself, and upon this reading I found that to be incredibly sad. The most striking quote in the novel for me comes when Nick tells Gatsby not to expect to much of Daisy and reminds him that he can't repeat the past. Gatsby replies with, "Can't repeat the past? . . . Why of course you can!"

You can't repeat the past- this book shows us that. Gatsby, however, went on believing he could, right up until the end. Even when things were very obviously falling apart for him, he still clung defiantly to his dream of what could be with Daisy. How could one not be moved by his story?

A lot is said about Nick Carraway as the narrator in this novel. Is he a good narrator? Reliable? Honest? He is obviously slanted in favor of Gatsby, despising some of his actions but liking the man. He is both a character and observer in the novel. He tells us the story years after the events occur and chooses to arrange parts of his narrative interestingly. He passes judgements on the rich while participating in parties with them. Is he right to do so? Are we expected to embrace Nick's opinions or refute them?

I view Nick as a regular person and a good narrator. I expect that were I in his position I would have acted in much the same way. I would have observed and went along with the crowd at times and still held my own personal opinions of people. I think I would have felt the same way about Gatsby too. I would have liked him, pitied him and been repulsed by him in some ways. No one is completely uniform in any direction. People sometimes do things they aren't comfortable with and watch as things go on that they don't agree with and say nothing. That doesn't make them bad people, it makes them regular people. I don't make any harsh judgements on Nick because I don't think it's anyone's responsibility to police the world. The best we can hope for is to go through life being a mostly good person. Nick does this just fine. I trust him.

Obviously, I like the novel. I could go on and on about the supporting characters, the striking symbolism and the moral implications of the novel, but I would not say anything that hasn't been said about this book before. If you have never read The Great Gatsby, read it! If you have read it before and didn't like it much, give it another shot. You may be surprised at how you interpret it a second time. I give this incredible novel 5 green lights out of 5.

My favorite part of the story is the exploration of the past, and how you can't go back to it. You can't change it, but that doesn't stop most of us from wanting to (or even trying to). Who can't relate to the human longing to go back and make things right, or to go back to a happier time when we didn't have the problems we have now? The last few paragraphs at the end encapsulate the hopelessness of this striving beautifully.

"As I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther . . . And one fine morning----

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."



Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring Break!

So now I am officially on Spring Break and I am loving it! More time for knitting and lounging and reading and anything else I wanna do. Of course, every moment is tinged with the knowledge that my husband lost his position last week, but we are coping. If we dwelled on this all the time we would both go mad.

I've stayed true to my promise and learned how to play Magic with my DH. It's actually not bad, even though he whoops my butt more often than not. He's also kept true to his promise and taken a knitting lesson from me. Here's his first little garter stitch square -

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It has uneven tension and it's riddled with accidents, but it's awesome for someone just starting out! He's admitted that knitting isn't as bad as he thought it would be, and I'm taking that as a victory. I've even signed him up for a Ravelry account, so he can post all of his projects.

I'm still working on my shawl, and it's coming along well. I'm off now to continue. Hopefully next time I post I'll have some progress pictures.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tough Times

You know, I am really sick of the economy these days.

You can't turn on the television or read an article in the newspaper without hearing about the current economic crisis. People are losing their jobs, there is no money for things like education and health care and everyone is suffering. It is amazing how the greed of the people at the top of our society has affected us peons living at the bottom of it.

My husband found out yesterday that his teaching position is being eliminated from his school, due to budgetary concerns. He hasn't lost his job yet, but he will have to move to a different location in the county for the start of the next school year. The existence of another job isn't an 100% guarantee, but it is more than likely he will get another placement. Thank God.

The bad in this is that he is depressed. He has lost the momentum he gained from putting everything he had into this school, and doing a damn good job of it. His county is HUGE, so we may have to move out from my parents' house before we are ready. All of my substitute teaching experience is in the county neighboring his. If he gets another job far away and we have to move, I will have lost all the progress I made here, trying to show my face around and make connections. In effect, we might have to both start over.

The good is that he still probably has a job, and that's not something everyone who has been affected by this economic downturn can say. He might end up in a high school, or even 7th or 8th grade, which he would greatly prefer. Moving out on our own would cause us to live pretty meagerly, but it would probably be a good thing over all.

We will be okay. I know we will because we have to go on living. There's no real use in sitting and being depressed about this because this happens to a lot of teachers and there's nothing we can do about it. None of that stops the event from being a crushing blow to us. We were starting to get comfortable here and now we have to move on and possibly start over somewhere else. How long are we going to have to wait to start a family and move on with our lives? I'm disappointed. There's no disguising it. I hope my husband, who is the BEST teacher and the BEST partner in the world isn't hurt too badly by this.

To console ourselves yesterday he let me order an embarrassing amount of lace weight yarn from Knit Picks and he ordered a whole slew of Magic cards online. We have made a deal with each other - he is going to learn knitting and I am going to learn how to play Magic with him. We will pick up each other's hobbies and have some fun together. We will concentrate on ourselves and our relationship and let the rest of life's events come as they may. Together, we will get through anything.

After the spending spree we decided to go on a pretty strict budget. We need to have enough socked away to move if his new job ends up being far away. He won't know anything at all for two months. The waiting is the hardest thing. This whole situation sucks - and it has to be fraught with uncertainty too. That's why I went nuts with the lace weight. You get a lot of knitting out of skinny yarns!

I don't think my Charms OWL will be finished in time for the HPKCHC deadline. I have been working diligently on it, but it's taking way longer than I thought it would. I love the project though and I am having fun, so that's okay. I will post some update pictures in my next entry.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More FOs

Today I managed to get the photos together for two more HPKCHC asignments. I'm proud of these projects - I think my knitting/crocheting has gotten better since the beginning of the year.

First up, March Herbology:

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Pattern: Baby Octopus by Ana Paula Rimoli
Yarn: Knit Picks Essential in Granny Smith
Mods: I used a size D hook and fingering weight yarn to make this little guy mini-sized. I also embroidered on the face rather than using felt and plastic eyes.

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The idea of the assignment was to make something shrunken, and I knew I wanted to do an animal. Flipping through my Amigurumi World book, I saw this little octopus and fell in love. He was fairly easy to make, but the finishing was a bitch! The body and legs are made separately, so I had to sew the 8 little legs on by hand. It was incredibly hard to get them on properly! There were many amputations before I finally got him looking the way I wanted him.

Right now he's sitting on my speaker next to my computer, keeping me company. He's completely pointless, but adorable all the same.

Next up is my Charms project:

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Pattern: Calorimetry by Kathryn Schoendorf
Yarn: Malabrigo Merino Worsted in Verdes
Mods: None!

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The idea of this project was to make something pointless. I chose to make this little number because I already own 8 million hats, I have never worn most of them, and I live in Florida where hats aren't necessary anyway!

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I absolutely love this project though. I love that I can wear it without it messing up my hair and I love how cute it looks on! This was the last of my yummy green Malabrigo. :( I need some more of this color!

Anyway, I have an update on the book front. I have decided not to read Under the Greenwood Tree this month. I tried my hardest, but I couldn't get into it! I suppose it's not the right time for me to read something like that, which requires concentration. I have decided instead to reread The Great Gatsby. It's one of my favorites and I haven't looked at it since high school. It will be wonderful to go through it again with grown up eyes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Top 5 Things About Substitute Teaching

In an effort to remain positive about my current career, I have decided to compile a list of the five best things about my job. It doesn't hurt to look on the bright side, right?

5. It isn't hard.

Frustrating? Yes. Miserable? Yes. Hard? No. The vast majority of my days consist of me giving out instructions at the beginning of class, then sitting on my butt for the rest of the period. Sometimes all I have to do all day is press play on a VCR. Sure, there are some days where I have to do a lot more work to keep things under control, but my average day isn't much of a challenge. As long as I take the attendance, respect the kids, and keep them from disturbing the classrooms around me I am golden.

4. The expectations placed on my abilities are low.

This makes it hard to be a disappointment. No one expects a substitute teacher to walk into a classroom full of rowdy kids and magically make them behave. Everyone understands that kids behave much worse than usual when a sub is in the room. I am not expected to do a better job than a regular classroom teacher. In fact, I am expected to do much worse, so there isn't too much pressure to perform well.

3. No one pays attention to me.

This can be a drawback in some ways, but my personality type probably derives more positives from this fact than negatives. While I do sometimes get lonely on the job, I enjoy not having to interact with that many people. I work well on my own, I don't have to make small talk with other adults and when the bell rings at the end of the day I am out the door with no one holding me back. No one comes by my classrooms to check on what I am doing, so I can sit and knit all day while the kids work. The knitting is what preserves my sanity, so I consider bringing along a project as necessary as wearing pants.

2. I can work whenever I want.

I can pick and choose which days I want to work. If I have a doctors appointment or I get sick, I don't have to beg a manager to let me take time off. It's nice to not have to answer to anyone in this regard.

1. If a day goes poorly, who cares? I'll probably never see these kids again.

Unlike regular classroom teachers who have to work to solve behavior issues, I can blissfully ignore them. If the day totally sucks, I don't have to come back and deal with the students ever again. I can make it through the day and then walk out, never to return. It's quite freeing. I do the best I can, but some days are just monsters. On those bad days, my best consolation is knowing that these students aren't mine and I don't have to try and fix their problems.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Just in Time for a Florida Summer - A New Scarf!

Today I finished blocking my assignment for my Care of Magical Creatures class. It is a scarf, it is made out of Malabrigo and it is lovely. The idea of the assignment was to make something with animal tracks on it.

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Pattern: Rabbit Tracks by Alison Jeppson Hyde
Yarn: Malabrigo Yarn Merino Worsted in Verdes
Mods: I cast on 4 extra stitches so that I could knit the first and last 2 of every row for a border

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This was the easiest knit scarf I have ever done. It is made over a four row repeat, and two of those rows are just purling across. The pattern was very easy to memorize, and knitting it up on size 11 needles made it fly by. I am quite pleased with the finished product. As an aside - I got to use my new blocking wires for the first time on this project!

Now I'm off to continue on with my other projects!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

First Finished OWL

Well, I've officially done it. Thanks to a strange exhaustion inducing virus that caused me to miss a whole bunch of work this week, I've been able to finish my potions OWL. The assignment was to do a granny square afghan. Technically I've done granny hexagons, but you get the idea.

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Pattern: Graphic Granny Afghan by Katherine Eng
Yarn: Caron Simply Soft in Country Blue, Soft Blue and Gray Heather
Caron Simply Soft Brites in Coconut
Mods: I chose my own colors for the blanket, and made the first two rounds of each hexagon the same color. I also used a size J hook for the project.

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I'm quite pleased with the way this came out. The colors work well together and it's a good size for a lapghan. If I had more time, I might have added on more hexagons, but I'm on a tight knitting schedule right now and I couldn't do that. As it is, this is the biggest crochet project I've ever done.

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The only annoyance I have with it is the little ends I've weaved in that keep managing to work their way out. If I were to make this blanket again, I would tuck in the ends from the last round of the hexagons better. I would weave them into more interior rounds. I didn't realize that the finishing process would cause them to sneak out like this. I keep having to go over the blanket looking for ends to trim. Now that I'm done tugging on it for the seaming I'm hoping that this problem will disappear.

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This will eventually be a gift for my mother. Her birthday isn't until May, so I'll have to wait a little while to show it off. It's nice to have it done ahead of time though! My mom and my dad actually have the same birthday, so now I've just got to worry about him.

I've still got lots of work to do this month - that scarf I mentioned in my last post is nearly finished and I've got a mini octopus in the works for Herbology.

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Of course, my charms OWL is still alarmingly far from completion. The plan for today is to get a whole bunch of rows done on that. It is going slower than slow for some reason lately. Probably because the darn thing gets bigger every row.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Out with the Old - In with the New

Today has been a day of new things. Firstly, I got my new computer today! It is absolutely beautiful and shiny and powerful. I love it. My old computer, which grudgingly served me for the past few years finally self-destructed to the point where it would no longer turn on. Rather than spend money to fix an outdated rig that would surely break again in the near future, my DH treated me to a nice new Dell.

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I know just enough about computers to know I don't deserve to have one this nice. Just look at the screen! My horrible camera really doesn't do it justice.

The second new thing that's happened this week is that I finished my old book (Foxmask) and I'm ready to start a new one. I chose Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy. I figured that it was time for a classic after reading mind-rotting contemporary fiction for the past 2 months. This will be the one that I review for March. Not that I can presume to "review" anything by an author as great as Hardy, but I'm going to write down my thoughts.

A third new thing is the scarf I'm working on for my Care of Magical Creatures class in the HPKCHC. The assignment is to make something with animal tracks on it. I chose the Rabbit Tracks scarf. It's a simple lace pattern that is knitting up beautifully so far in Malabrigo worsted.

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The lace pattern with be more visible once the scarf is blocked (with my brand new blocking wires!). I will provide more details in the scarf's FO post.

For an "out with the old," I'm nearing completion of my first OWL! My granny square throw for Potions is nearly complete. I finished all the crocheting and now I'm at the finishing stage. I still have hours of work to put into it, but the main part is done.

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This big pile of stuff is the blanket so far. All the components look fantastic, but all of the sewing is going to take forever!

Tonight is the night we "spring forward." I hate losing an hour of sleep. It's not like I'm not tired enough already. I had an especially tiring sub job last Friday. It was a special request from a teacher who nabbed one of my notes from a sub job I did a while back for another teacher in the school. I was flattered that she thought enough of me from an old note to hire me for this job. As usual, I completely misinterpreted the situation. This lady probably hired me because I was the last sub left who didn't know about the mess she has going on in her classroom.

This was a middle school art classroom, and that should have been a red flag to me right there. Art teachers tend to conform to the fruity, hippie stereotype. Not all of them, of course, but some do. Some try to be earth mother/friend of the students and have horrible classroom management. This lady was one of those. The kids were climbing the walls all day. They were nuts, and not the usual nuts that comes along when subs are in the classroom, but a special, evil kind of nuts. Clearly, they were used to acting like savages in this classroom and my presence was not going to change that.

When a teacher does not have control of her own classroom, there is no way that a sub is going to have it. Talking with some of the nicer kids that day revealed that this behavior was the status quo in the room. "It's like this every day," they told me, "Sometimes worse." Great. Just great.

At least I know that it wasn't my fault I had a horrible day. I don't know how this teacher deals with this type of behavior. I understand that she probably wants art to be fun for the kids, but there still needs to be some semblance of order. Kids can't be running around the room screaming and jumping on desks.

Ah, well. The best thing about being a sub is that I can move on and forget this day ever happened. I don't have to puzzle out a solution to this mess. As one of the shrewder children remarked to me, "You'll still get paid whether we behave or not." Truer words were never spoken.